Russia first took up arms against republican France in 1798, when Tsar Paul sent armies to the Netherlands, Switzerland and northern Italy, but these were later withdrawn. Hostilities with France recommenced in 1805 when Russia joined what would become the Third Coalition, and sent large armies into central Europe in support of those of Austria, but suffered defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz. However Russia continued the struggle as part of the new Fourth Coalition, fighting major battles at Eylau and Friedland before concluding peace with the Treaty of Tilsit (July 1807).
As with any army of the day, a large part of the Russian infantry was made up of grenadiers. Traditionally the strongest men who could throw a grenade, by the Napoleonic Wars this function had long disappeared from land warfare, and they were instead heavy infantry but still seen as the best of the Line Infantry. The year 1804, when this set dates itself from, saw the grenadiers gradually returning to a modern uniform rather than the old-fashioned Frederickian Prussian uniforms introduced under Paul. They now wore the coat with shorter tails and lapels fully closed to the waist with two rows of buttons. They wore breeches with boots in the winter, which is what all these figures are wearing, but they still had the tall mitre cap with metal front plate and headband decorated with grenades (but no chinstrap). They carried the cylindrical knapsack or valise, to which was attached a mess tin and, from 1805, a rolled greatcoat. The cartridge pouch on the right hip (with grenadier decoration) and sabre on the left completed the outfit, which is correctly modelled here. In 1805 it was decreed that the grenadier mitre cap should be replaced by a shako, but naturally this took years to implement, partly simply to save the expense of replacing almost new mitres, and several regiments continued to wear the mitre for several more years. Inevitably mention needs to be made here of the Pavlov regiment, who still had the mitre in mid-1807, and were allowed to keep it in perpetuity in recognition of their gallant action at Friedland, but other grenadiers would also have retained this look into 1808, so the dates for this set make perfect sense.
The four command figures in this set naturally show some differences in clothing. The first figure has the short tails of the men and carries a halberd of suitable design, so is an NCO. He also has a cane attached to a button on his coat, and no firearm or ammunition pouch, but is otherwise equipped the same as the men. Next to him is the drummer, who wears the same coat as the men but with lace chevrons down both sleeves and swallows nest epaulettes. Apart from his drum he carries just a sword, and again is correctly reproduced here. Third in the row is the flag-bearer, dressed and equipped like the men but with no firearm or pouch, and the last man is an officer. He wears the usual officer garb of a coat with longer tails, over which a sash is tied around the waist. Unfortunately here it has been tied on the right when it should be on the left. He carries a sword and wears a normal hat rather than the mitre of the men, which is correct, and also has a large gorget around his neck as further evidence of his rank. Like the men then, this figure is correctly dressed and equipped.
The poses of both men and command are quite similar to those in the other sets of RedBox Napoleonic Russian infantry released at the same time, and like them these are very appropriate. The advancing figure in the first row has his legs and body positioned rather awkwardly, but the ideas are OK, although the marching figure in the second row would have been more useful if he carried his musket on the proper left shoulder. Some of the poses lean a surprising amount to either left or right, and the position of the drummer’s arms is cumbersome, but this is a notoriously difficult pose to do well and we have seen much worse.
We liked the sculpting on these figures very much. There is good detail and the proportions are also pleasing. Even the Romanov eagle on the mitre front plates has been sculpted quite well, which is impressive as most do not face the mould, but this is a lot deeper than the real thing would be, and we would have preferred something much more subtle instead. The quality of the mould is more of a problem, as in places there is quite a bit of flash on these figures. Also there are random extra lumps such as on the drummer’s left arm and right foot, so some of these poses are quite messy to look at and will take a lot of cleaning up.
There are a few finer details to note here. First, the men all wear their hair in a queue, a practice that was stopped in 1806 for the men (but not the officers), so strictly speaking they should be trimmed off for dates after this. Next, the flag should be about 20mm square, but this one measures 17mm tall and 22 wide, making it closer in size than some of the other sets in this series, but still wrong and the wrong shape too. In addition, the staff to which it is attached is much shorter than it should be.
So while we generally liked these figures, the flash and extra lumps spoil the look of them to some degree, and some will want to substitute a better sized flag and staff than are to be found here. We were also not pleased with the very small bases on the figures, which barely cope with the lean of some of the poses. Nevertheless some careful trimming and a nice paint job will reveal some very useful and appealing figures. The style is different to the old and imperfect Italeri set, but the sizing is much the same and in our view they would work together well enough (see our comparison link below).